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John Olsen, Woollahra, Sydney

David Moore1962 (printed 2000)

National Portrait Gallery

National Portrait Gallery
Canberra, Australia

John Olsen AO OBE (b. 1928) is one of Australia’s most well-known landscape artists, with his paintings evoking the diversity in the changing seasons within the outback. A passionate and radical student, he focused initially on moody readings of poetry like T.S. Eliot. After completing his studies at a number of art schools in Sydney, Olsen received a scholarship to travel to Europe. During his three years in Paris and Spain, he developed his techniques that would see him becoming one of the most consistently honoured artists in Australia. Olsen consistently painted, winning a number of prestigious commissions and prizes including the Wynne Prize and the Archibald Prize. After being awarded the Centenary Medal in 2001, he held a position as a Trustee for the Art Gallery of New South Wales. Olsen has been attributed with bringing Abstract Expressionism to Australia, and a major retrospective of his work was held at the National Gallery Victoria, before touring to the Art Gallery of New South Wales.
Upon his return from Europe, Olsen painted several ceilings around Sydney. These all formed part of his ‘You Beaut Country’ series, with glowing suns at their centres and vibrant lines expanding out to the borders. These were all created in the presence of their patrons, and these became a performative piece, where Olsen used his whole body to move around the room, walking each line as liquid colour emerges from Olsen’s brush and mind. This collage of nine photographs documents this process, and were taken by eminent photographer David Moore.

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